Summer Daze

Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.Henry David Thoreau

The small town lawyer’s practice seems to ebb and flow with the seasons and within each season. There is steady work in the late fall after harvest and throughout the winter until that moment when the days have lengthen sufficiently to start to stir thoughts of spring with in a human’s soul (barring the important holidays of course – come Christmas week and the first week of deer season and client calls drop off precipitously).

1200003_88771071Then there is summer ; those long lazy days of summer, days where the sun’s rays languish late into the evening and the heat and humidity are tailor-made for sweet tea and porch-settin’ – days where the most pressing thing on your plate should be emulating your dog’s efforts to sprawl across the lawn under the spreading crown of a maple and become one with the shade, waiting for the next thunder shower to walk across the countryside sweeping the heat and humidity away. And yet, the rural lawyer will, more likely than not , see that the pace of work quickens as the days grow hot and long. Some days it seems like summer’s weather has more effect on client inquires than one’s marketing efforts; an uptick in client calls is a sure predictor that a storm front is on its way; if they can’t be out in the fields, they are more willing to come into your office.

Rain is not the only thing that seems to drag clients into the office. Increases in client load also follow the predictable lulls in the normal farming routine – those periods between the end of one major event and the beginning of the next; it seems that the great sabbats of farming (spring planting, hay cutting, harvest) are no longer marked by joyous, hedonistic rituals but by dealing with matters legal, medical, or dental. While I generally approve of any tradition that results in an increase in business, I am somewhat saddened by the loss of the more ancient ways – then again, I am sure that the mere thought of lawyers cavorting naked about a bonfire under the full moon on a warm July evening did more to kill off these ancient rituals than simple modern-day practicalities.

Out Standing in the Field – Rural Lawyers in the News

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In “Is Bigger Always Better?“, attorney Michael C. Larson talks about the pull to come home to the small town law practice his great-grandfather started in spite of the occasional law school daydream of a big law career. For Mr. Larson, bigger was not better, it is the little things, the personal connection to his work and to his clients that make his career fulfilling – as he puts it: “There is something to say about being not only intellectually invested, but emotionally invested in your clientele.  I get to see first-hand the way I affect people’s lives.”

Corey Bruning discusses how he went from zero to his first jury trial in about 15 minutes in “Rural Practice Realized: A Success Story” – well, not quite in 15 minutes, there was a bit of set up before hand. Mr. Bruning is a second career attorney, Deputy State’s Attorney and partner in a small town (his hometown) law practice. As of this month, he’s six months into a law practice that covers everything from criminal prosecution to estate work, family law to business law and everything in between. Sounds like a typical rural law practice to me.

One Day

 Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, fsa 8a42222

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, fsa 8a42222

The second of May saw 13 inches of heavy wet snow descend on my little part of the prairie – a noteworthy event even by Minnesota bachelor  farmer standards (a group that is notoriously parsimonious with praise). Like all good storms worth of the title “the great ______ of [insert reference year]”  (e.g.: the great wind of ’36, the great frost of ’09, etc.) this one left a bit of havoc in its wake. One particularly inconvenient bit of havoc left me without power for 14 hours.

For those of you who might brush this aside as a minor inconvenience, here is what no electricity means for my neighbors and me. No power means no water (we’re all on private water, aka wells, out here), no heat (takes electricity to power blowers, pumps and thermostats), no internet (those DSL routers don’t run on peanuts) and no computers (well at least nothing that’s not battery-powered). And, given that I had already changed the oil in my truck and tractors from the light weight winter oil to the heavier weights diesel engines prefer during the summer months, no power means that my snow removal equipment is not going to start (under 32 degrees, these summer time lubricants take on the same fluidity as wet concrete and need a bit of coddling and a bit of electrically generated heat before they are willing to flow) leaving me sitting on the waiting list for the local snowplow – at a quarter-mile long, my driveway is not one that lends itself to being shoveled by hand.

So, here’s the question – is your practice – that digital masterpiece of paperless perfection – robust enough to go 1 working day without power? Having just completed a review the hard way, the best I can say is that mine can, but things could be better. Continue reading

Field Trips and Incentives

382606_3276Today’s Leader Post reports on the University of Saskatchewan’s efforts to recruit rural lawyers.

The lack of rural lawyers is not just a problem here in the US; the root causes – population shifts away from rural areas, practicing rural lawyers looking at retirement and practices closing because there is no successor – are not localized phenomenon.

The article reports on the University’s efforts to address 2 problems common to rural lawyer recruitment: a lack of familiarity with available opportunities, and the siren song of a big city practice. While the University’s College of Law is just beginning to address the later issue (the preliminary ideas seem to be focused on some form of loan forgiveness and modeled after a program the Saskatchewan government offers medical students), the school is actively addressing the former by providing day trips to rural areas for interested students.

Rural law practices don’t happen simply because a lawyer hangs out a shingle. They happen by building a connection to the community; it’s basically about being the right person in the right place at the right time and frankly, the only way to find the right place is to go out and spend time in rural areas and small towns (find the right place and you become the right person). Now, unless there is a sign from above – lightning flashes, thunder booms – a day trip is really not enough time to evaluate a rural area (if they know yo are coming, just about anyone can be charming for a few hours) but it is enough time to make a few connections, to collect some contact information, to start thinking about opportunities, and perhaps to plan for the next trip.

Hanging Your Shingle in a Small Town

A guest post by Andrew Flusche

Similar to being a rural lawyer, practicing law in a small town has unique challenges and considerations. It’s certainly not the same as the big city! Here are a few things I’ve learned since starting my practice in the booming small-opolis of Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Today’s lawyers are tomorrow’s judges

In Virginia, the legislature appoints our judges. Of course those appointments come from the ranks of the active bar. It makes perfect sense, but when I was a baby lawyer I never really thought about it.

Here’s why I mention it: be nice to everyone! If you’re rude to a colleague that doesn’t seem to affect your practice at all today, they very well could be a judge next year.

In the five years since I’ve been practicing, I’ve seen a handful of judicial changes, and I practice in an extremely limited number of courts. Just this simple fact should give you pause before you do anything that might not reflect positively on you.

It’s a small world out there

When practicing in a small town, you run into people from your legal world outside the courtroom. I run into clerks, judges, clients, colleagues, and officers all the time when I’m out and about.

Needless to say, we should always be nice to everyone. But we’re human, so that’s easier said than done.

However, as a small town lawyer, it’s even more important to always be kind. Heck, I run into clients who I can’t even remember, but they recognize me. If I treat someone poorly, they just might be a past client. Or they might have been a client tomorrow.

Be unique to stand out

It’s tempting to model your practice on the other attorneys in town. After all, it’s working for them. Why not follow suit?

Here in Fredericksburg, most folks do family law, criminal defense, and personal injury. Some people just do two of those, but being more of a generalist is standard practice around town.

To give myself a marketing advantage, I came up with a unique angle: traffic and misdemeanor defense. I’m the only attorney in Fredericksburg (and perhaps the state of Virginia) who solely defends traffic tickets and misdemeanor charges. Many colleagues are still surprised that my practice works, but I think the main reason it’s worked out is that I’m different. In a crowded field, the purple cow gets attention.

Andrew Flusche lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia and helps people from all over the country with their reckless driving Virginia tickets. He also wrote the consumer book, Fight Your Virginia Reckless Driving Ticket. Find Andrew on Google+.